The Cape Fear area, in close proximity to a number of military bases, is home to many active and retired service members. As a result, veteran-owned businesses abound in Wilmington and nearby communities and can be found in the local hospitality industry.
A Taste of Sunrise Coffee House and Gathering Place is an inviting space in Hampstead run by Marine veteran Erich Fritz and his wife, Alexa. After Erich Fritz spent seven years in the Marines and retired from his career as a firefighter and medic, the Fritzes moved to Wilmington and the idea was born.
“I always loved coffee and was attracted to the people coming and hanging out. I did not want a drive-thru. I want people to come and feel comfortable,” Erich Fritz said. “I want people to come and gather.”
A Taste of Sunrise opened its doors in July and has connected with the community. A wide variety of coffees are available with specialty flavors that Erich Fritz makes himself, including vanilla, French toast and brown sugar apple, in addition to frappes, smoothies and baked goods, with vegan and gluten-free options.
Working with a local roaster in Holly Ridge, Java Estates, Erich Fritz hopes A Taste of Sunrise will one day become a vacation destination for those interested in learning about and enjoying the different varieties of coffee.
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., A Taste of Sunrise offers discounts for military, veterans and first responders. Find them at 14669 U.S. 17 N. in Hampstead.
Once the coffee kicks in, head into Wilmington to former Army Blackhawk pilot and National Guardsman Darek Huckbody’s Battle House Laser Combat.
Geared toward all ages, Battle House uses high-tech realistic equipment and gaming props for a memorable gaming experience that “is just an awesome, fun time,” said Huckbody.
Huckbody trains all Battle House employees, many of whom are veterans themselves, in the same vein as the U.S. Army.
“The Army is good at training people, but not in a fun way. We take all that and make it fun,” Huckbody said.
Battle House is open Wednesday through Sunday and is located at 1817 Hall Drive in Wilmington. Every Friday, military members and first responders get a $10 discount.
If tactical play does not sound relaxing, make a reservation on the veteran-owned Port City Brew Bus. Army veteran Jeremy Tomlinson guides participants to three different breweries.
At each brewery, guests get to sample the beer selections, tour the facilities to see how the beer is made and chat with brewers and baristas about the brewing process.
In Southport, Italian restaurant Bella Cucina is run by Air Force veteran Tom McAndrew III.
After more than 20 years in the aerospace industry, McAndrew changed gears and has been managing Bella Cucina since 2004.
“It was a big change for me. It was completely different,” McAndrew said.
Providing family recipes and traditional Italian dishes, McAndrew prides himself on using fresh and local products.
“We use local purveyors of seafood and order produce from local vendors that comes fresh twice a week,” McAndrew said. “You have to start with good product. That is key.”
Bella Cucina’s menu features everything from fresh salads, pizza and strombolis to chicken piccata and shrimp alfredo.
“It is pretty amazing what we do considering our extensive menu,” McAndrew said. “We use raw products and cook to order.”
Many of his staff have been working with McAndrew for 15 years. He credits his unique approach to maintaining his employees.
“I treat them different than a lot of others in the business do. I do like they do in the military. I give them the tools they need to empower them, and then I stand back and let them do their thing,” McAndrew said.
McAndrew credits his staff, including pizza chef Joel Wilcox and chef John Turner, with their ability to create and provide interesting new dishes.
“They take an idea and come up with something, and that’s the way the military works,” McAndrew said.
Bella Cucina is also a family-run business as McAndrew’s father owns the restaurant, he manages it, and his two sons often work as bartenders and pasta makers. Bella Cucina is open seven days a week and located at 5177 Southport-Supply Road SE, Unit A.